Camera Phones and Emergency Repsonse

Mobile phones equipped with cameras have in recent emergencies and disasters played a new role not traditionally associated with point-to-point communication devices. However, the mobile phone is as most know these days, no longer a point-to-point communication device, but also commonly used to publish pictures, messages, and video sequences on blogs. In a sense the mobile phone as become a broadcasting device focusing on production and consumption. In the London subway-bombings, within minutes after the attack, people began to take photos of the evacuation and uploading them to various blogs and also sending them to news desks. In this way, the general public had very soon after the event occurred a first-hand view of what was going on.

From an emergency response perspective, one might wonder if the police and rescue services also had the technology and organization in place to benefit from this type of accident site information. Even if the mobile phone system was suffering of both the bombings and the massive increase of traffic, people did manage to send their pictures and video sequences. This means that, the police and rescue services would have had the possibility to use such media in order to make sense of the situation and form new and perhaps innovative response actions that conformed to the situation at hand.

The reality is, I am afraid, not that good. At least in Sweden, the local rescue services do not use the general publics production of information as part of emergency response work. There is a need to explore and study how citizens can become a competent actor in the early phases of emergency response. The technology is already in place; ie the Mobile Phone, but the organisational dimensions are far form well understood.

Read more about the use of mobile phones by citizens in the London underground bombings in the National Geographics and the Washingtonpost.

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